Birthdays on a Budget

A child’s birthday should be fun, but not so over the top that it drains the family finances. The focus should be on thoughtful gifts, fun simple activities and family traditions, not on spending money, exhausting yourself and driving the kids into a frenzy.

Time is the one truly valuable thing in our lives, and there’s nothing more worthwhile than to give your time to you child. An ideal way to spend time with your child on their birthday means paying attention to them, talking with and listening to them, and engaging in some kind of activity together.

It’s rare that a birthday party works out to be on the same day as the child’s actual birth date, so try to make the day of the birthday special. Wake them up by singing Happy Birthday. Make a special request breakfast or maybe buy a special birthday dish that the birthday person uses for all their meals that day.

Gather the family to make a homemade dinner of the child’s request. It’s much less expensive than a restaurant meal where the kids have to wait for a table then sit still through dinner. And if the whole family participates, it gets the other children involved in doing something special for the birthday person.

After dinner, let the birthday child pick a family activity that everyone can do together. The activity needs to be free and involve the whole family. Ideas are: movie night or game night, trail walking, water balloons, egg toss, sledding, or swimming. There are any number of free fun activities to do. The key is to spend time together as a family creating memories.

A birthday is a good time to talk about “growing up” as each birthday is a step toward independence. You can help your child mature by marking the milestone with a discussion about their new age, which helps make the day special in a different kind of way.

Talk about the changes to chores, bedtime, allowance and privileges. There are any number of ways to acknowledge how your child is growing up and add special meaning to each birthday. Not only is this an opportunity for focused one-on-one attention, it also maintains the sense that this day is a day of growing maturity.

The time spent together is much more important than over the top expensive birthday parties, so don’t even think about keeping up with the neighbors. If other parents want to have inflatable slides and bouncy houses and pony rides and balloon animal makers and all kinds of crazy things, it doesn’t mean you have to do it. The kinds of decisions made by other families can be different than the decisions you make in your own family. Learn to use the phrase “That’s not how we do it on our family.”

Rather than receiving a mountain of gifts, be sure you get one thing your child really wants. It’s a lot easier to control spending if you’re giving a relatively small number of gifts. Once the child opens the third gift or so, each subsequent gift begins to seem less important and less interesting. 

After a gift-giving event, people tend to gravitate toward just a few of their gifts even if they liked all of them. In other words, once you get past the third gift or so, the rest are overkill.

Be sure their gift is the one thing they REALLY want. People (kids are people too!) tend to appreciate receiving the one thing they want most even more than receiving most of their wish list. It seems counterintuitive, but kids tend to be thrilled when they receive the main thing they wanted, so their other desires tend to fall by the wayside in comparison. When you really nail something they want, nothing else matters.

Keep the party simple and the guest list small.  The more children, the more overwhelming it will be for you and your child. Large parties are expensive, and if they are too large, the kids can’t even play with each other in the chaos. Center the party around a simple activity or easy to run games, such as an art party where the kids can paint birdhouses or  pin the candles on the cake. Lay out bubble wrap on the floor and have children take turns gently walking across it. Whoever doesn’t pop any bubbles wins! Have a bowl full of cotton balls and an empty bowl in front of the child. Hand them a spoon and blindfold them. Whoever moves the most cotton balls into the empty bowl wins!

Rather than buying a birthday cake from a bakery, make it at home. Homemade cakes are far less expensive than bakery cakes and you can get everyone in the family involved in making it. Let the birthday child personalize the cake. If your child loves the purple cake with the lopsided icing truck, that’s all that matters!

Who says you have to have cake? Maybe your birthday child would prefer a different dessert such as ice cream, pie, strawberry shortcake, cupcakes, cheesecake, or cinnamon rolls,

An expensive party and a pile of expensive gifts might be exciting for a child, but does it really mean anything? Does the birthday celebration build family and friendship bonds? In the end, it’s the time you took that makes the memories special.

Building those bonds and creating memorable moments doesn’t happen by throwing money at a big expensive party and lots of gifts.

It happens with time and attention, which are always the best gifts you can give to your child, period. If you give those gifts, then the physical gifts are secondary. Teach your child to appreciate the things in life that are really important–relationships, fun, sharing, conversations, traditions and spending time together.

Those gifts are so much more precious than any amount of money you can spend.

Checkout the Manage Your Money God’s Way podcast for more.

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